T here’s a lot that goes into making wine, let alone great wine. Grapevines don’t reach maturity until they’re at least 10 years old, meaning winemakers must normally dedicate a decade of labor before they can produce wine worth drinking – and it can take 50 years to reach the maximum expressions. So when Alexander and Carrie Vik set out to produce one of the best red wines in the world on their 11,000-acre wilderness land in the Millahue Valley, Chile, it was no easy feat they’d undertaken. Today, only 16 brief years after VIK planted their first vines, their wine is good – incredibly good. In fact, in 2022 William Reed Business Media named it the fourth best vineyard in the entire world, and in 2020 Wine Enthusiast voted it the best vineyard experience around the globe.
A Life Less Ordinary: The Breathtaking Ambition of Vik Retreats
Vik Chile, one of six extraordinary properties run by the hospitality group Vik Retreats is located on a hilltop in the middle of the VIK vineyard. There are two different concept retreats in Chile – Vik Chile and Puro Vik – three in Uruguay’s magnificent beach town José Ignacio – Playa Vik, Estancia Vik, Bahia Vik – and Galleria Vik Milano in Milan’s historic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Each retreat hotel strives to be the absolute best in class. For a clientele who might leave behind their own private cellars and art collections when they travel, Vik Retreats offers a buffet for the senses. The retreats are part of a growing group of holiday destinations that enhances already stellar five-star experiences with curated fine art, exceptional viticulture and thoughtful gastronomy.
Each room throughout all of Vik Retreats’ locations features a unique artistic character. Take, for example, the 22 rooms at Vik Chile and 7 glass bungalows at Puro Vik. There’s the Retro Room, which is decorated with art nouveau paintings; La Patricia is named after the local artist Patricia Fernández, whose artworks on the walls reflect the river that slices through the rolling hills of the Millahue Valley; the Hiroshige bungalow is inspired by the great ukiyo-e master and contains a number of his 19th-century prints. The newest hotel, Galleria Vik Milano, contains 89 rooms, each showcasing remarkable art, décor and site-specific installations made by over 100 Italian, Uruguayan and international artists.
“When guests are staying with us, they learn something about the broader culture – including the art.”
The husband-and-wife duo Alexander and Carrie Vik design and curate every room across all six properties themselves. “For North Americans and Europeans, South America is kind of a new frontier,” says Carrie Vik. “When you come to our properties in South America, a lot of people are really experiencing something they’ve rarely experienced.” The region’s history in cattle ranching, for example, is reflected in Estancia Vik’s bi-weekly gaucho-style barbecue, where guests can enjoy asado cooked over an open fire in a corrugated-tin room painted with abstract, graffiti-like art by the acclaimed Uruguayan artist Marcelo Legrand. Alexander asked Marcelo to connect his colorful art with the graffiti-covered metal storefront shutters of New York City and the humble tin shacks of the Pampas.
“When we did the project in Chile, we didn’t really know Chilean artists,” says Alexander. “We probably met 200 artists that we personally went to visit at their studios, looked at all their work and spoke to them. We’re not just buying art, we are collaborating and creating art.” The couple’s dedication and commitment to supporting the arts and culture of the region is visible in their every decision, from the room designs to each location’s architecture. “The idea was always to have the location, the destination, be about the place in every aspect, so that when guests are staying with us, they learn something about the broader culture – including the art,” says Carrie Vik.
The winery building at VIK is perhaps the pinnacle of this union between artistry and regional history. It was designed by Smiljan Radic, a Chilean-architect of Croatian descent who also designed the 2014 Serpentine Pavilion in London – a translucent, shell-like structure perched atop quarry stones. The team spent three years perfecting the design of their winery to maximize sustainability and efficiency before building, and today it’s carbon-negative and powered by 100 percent renewable energy. The cellar itself is underground; only its high-tech, stretched-fabric roof is visible from the Vik Chile and Puro Vik retreats. Visitors enter via a passageway through the vines that leads to a football-field-sized water-mirror plaza dotted with a river-rock sculptural installation designed by Marcela Correa and her husband Smiljan Radic. Water gently streams toward the winery building at 2-degree slope, creating air conditioning for the barrel room below.
Chief winemaker Cristián Vallejo, who formerly worked for Bordeaux’s iconic Château Margaux, employs Old World winemaking traditions – such as making amphorae with special clay from the vineyard – within the striking modernist cellar. The winery even makes its own barrels using French oak staves, which it toasts using oak harvested from fallen trees growing naturally on the VIK property, in an effort to inject even more of the VIK terroir directly into the barrel. Vallejo also led a program of harvesting natural yeasts from the wild flowers on the property to use in his winemaking.
The recipe of Vik Retreats is a simple one in theory, but a difficult one to pull off: Invite the best-of-the-best to take part in the retreat and excel in crafting their portion of the overall experience. When done well, as it is no doubt done here, the result is one of a kind – a total artwork, an exceptional community that guests become enmeshed in the moment that they step foot on the property, and one to which they’ll surely return.